Indira, the destroyer

Between the lines

If all the sponsored publicity by the Congress-ruled Central and state governments could efface the stigma of mis-governance on Indira Gandhi’s part, it would have happened long ago. After 25 years of her death, the same sources did not have to go over the exercise all over again with crores of rupees going down the drain. The effort failed because there was no introspection, no regret.

Indira Gandhi’s cardinal sin was not the imposition of the emergency but the elimination of morality from politics. She rubbed off the thin line that differentiates right from wrong, moral from immoral. Her demolition of values was so thorough that the dividing line stays erased even today.

In the first 19 years after independence, Jawaharlal Nehru and his successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, saved the nation from becoming prey to power politics. They used their office to serve the nation. Never did pettiness or vindictiveness cross their mind. But Indira Gandhi was different. She had no qualms in making power the end by itself. She should have resigned on moral grounds when she was disqualified by the Allahabad high court for a poll offence. But how could she follow the rule of law when she was law unto herself?

Instead of resigning, she imposed the emergency to overturn the entire system to save her skin. She had parliament pass a legislation to remove the disqualification bar. She did not think it appropriate to consult even the cabinet, which was summoned in the morning to endorse the proclamation which the president had signed the night before.

Indira Gandhi was never happy with the press. Her first order was to gag it. The media has still not regained its equilibrium even after 34 years. It has now developed the quality to stay on the right side of every political party when in power. That is the reason why newspaper articles on her 25th death anniversary seldom mentioned her misdeeds either before the emergency or during the emergency. They were too laudatory even to shame the sycophants.

Mahatma Gandhi taught the nation to shed fear. Indira Gandhi recreated fear in the minds of people. Whether it was the press, the judiciary or the bureaucracy, they compromised because of fear. She decimated what was called the impartial bureaucracy. It caved in under pressure. Desire for self-preservation became the sole motivation for government servants’ actions and behaviour. The fear generated by the mere threat made them pliable. They became a tool of tyranny in her hands.

Commitment re-defined

Indira Gandhi coined the word, commitment, long before the emergency to assess the loyalty of bureaucrats towards her. Some of them differed to say that their commitment was to the constitution of India. But they were either ignored at the time of promotion or sent to an unimportant position. This resulted in slow tracking of independent administrators, accustomed to note fearlessly on files.

The judiciary also felt the pressure of commitment. She superseded three Supreme Court judges to appoint her own person as the Chief Justice of India. He came in handy when the case of emergency’s endorsement was before him. The Supreme Court judgment was 11 to 1. The lone dissenter, the senior most judge, was not made the Chief Justice when his turn came. It was rattling of Lewis Carroll’s, “I will be the judge. I will be the jury, said the old cunning fury.”

The biggest damage she did in her 18-year-rule was to the institutions which her father, Nehru, had founded and nourished. She manoeuvred even parliament when she lost the majority in the Lok Sabha in the wake of the party’s split.

Indira Gandhi certainly began her political life with a remarkable mix of many things, a capacity to listen, to comprehend at different levels, to communicate with the last man. And she was strictly and totally secular in region and religion. These qualities underwent different permutations and combinations in later days. She would use every trick to win at the polls.

Somewhere along the way a new factor entered to restrict her vision. Her son, Sanjay Gandhi, became the extra-constitutional authority. He opened the doors to dubious muscles of lumpen youth. The order, built by him, has not been dismantled and one can see it in the governance even today. Indira Gandhi used all methods to break those who opposed her. I wonder if she would get even a footnote in history. If at all she gets mentioned, it would be because of Operation Bluestar against the Sikh’s Vatican, the Golden Temple at Amritsar. She has had the tanks roll in within the precincts of the gurdwara.

She paid a heavy price for it. Her Sikh bodyguards killed her to avenge the attack on the Golden Temple. But then the government’s retaliation was criminal. It did not act in 1984 for three days during which 3,000 Sikhs were butchered in Delhi in broad day light. It is an irony that the Sikhs have recalled the killings this weak, the 25th anniversary of the massacre, when the Congress party, too, has held meetings and photo exhibitions to glorify Indira Gandhi.

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